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Hotel chains gear up for the fight to block personal Wi-Fi hotspots

Tech giants oppose the action, which could force travelers to use hotel networks

Wi-Fi access has become a staple of most major hotelier chains, offering an extra bit of connectivity for the beleaguered wanderer. But while hotel chains often charge a fee for such connectivity, tech-savvy travelers have gotten around using hotel-provided Wi-Fi by employing mobile hot spots to log on. Now a group of hotel industry companies has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the right to stop them from doing so. 

In August, the group, which is comprised of Marriott Corporation as well as the American Hospitality and Lodging Association among others, petitioned the FCC asking whether or not current laws prevent them from disabling Wi-Fi hotspots on their property. The group stated that this would be done primarily prevent the use of fraudulent Wi-Fi networks on their grounds. Such networks encourage users to log on for free Internet services, which can be loaded with malware.  

Unlike radio and television broadcasting frequencies, Wi-Fi uses unlicensed airwaves. The advocacy group says because of this, they should be able to block the use of personal hotspot devices; this would mean that guests staying on the property would need to use hotel-based networks if they wished to connect.

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Open comment on the petition closed on Dec 19, and the battle for hotel Wi-Fi is looking to be a contentious arena in 2015. Tech giants Google and Microsoft have voiced their concerns over allowing hotel chains to block such devices.

In a comment submitted to the FCC, Microsoft said that, “in the Section 333 of the Communications Act prohibits willful or malicious interference with a radio-transmitting device authorized under the Communications Act. Unlicensed operations are authorized under the Act, and as a result, are protected under Section 333. The Commission has repeatedly made clear that Wi-Fi is protected from jamming and interference under Section 333.”

Pursuant to section 333 of the Communications Act, The Marriott Corp. has previously been fined for blocking customer access to personal hotspot devices.  On Oct. 3 the FCC announced a fine against the hotel chain and its subsidiaries for intentionally jamming mobile hot spots at a Nashville conference center. An FCC led investigation alleges that Marriott had been doing this to force conference attendees to sign up for its Wi-Fi services. The company paid $600,000 to resolve the investigation, which began in March 2013 as the result of a complaint filed by a conference goer.

Resulting action from the FCC will determine the future of personal Internet usage at hotel chains.

Executive Editor

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Chris DiMarco

Chris DiMarco, Executive Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, has a background in multimedia production with previous involvement in projects in which he developed and created content...

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